One of Spanish football’s recent success stories has been the emergence of Sevilla as one of the strongest teams, culminating, of course, in season 2006/07 when the team captured three trophies – the UEFA Cup, for the second successive year, the UEFA Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. Indeed, in just two seasons, Sevilla won more trophies than in their entire previous history!
All this is a long way from March 8th, 1890 – the date on which the very first official football match took place in Spain, in the city of Seville. The fixture was between Huelva Recreation Club and a team composed of workers from the Seville Water Works and, apart from two Spaniards playing for Huelva, everyone else taking part was British.
Although the Seville team won this inaugural fixture by 2 goals to nil, the club wasn’t officially formed until 1905. The British influence, however, was still strong; hence the anglicised Sevilla FC instead of the more Spanish CF – club de fútbol. Although many Andalusian titles were won during the early years, Sevilla FC was not elected to La Liga until the 1934/35 season, partly because local rivals Real Betis Balompié were already members of the league. Coming fifth in their first season was accompanied by victory in the Copa del Rey competition, beating CE Sabadell 3 – 0 in the final. After coming second twice, the one and only League title was captured in 1946.
For many years, it seemed as if these were destined to be Sevilla’s best days. Despite moving to the impressive 45,000 capacity Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in 1958, Sevilla became the archetypical mid-table team, with the occasional brush with relegation. Indeed, the club was relegated during the 60s and the 70s. During the 1980s, the legendary Jock Wallace had a season as coach, which must have been quite entertaining. Wallace, for those unfamiliar with him, apparently had a temper that made Alex Ferguson’s hair dryer treatment seem like an affectionate whisper. The nadir for the club was at the end of the 1990s when relegation was suffered both in 1996/97 and then, with just 28 points, at the end of 1999/2000.
Two new faces, however, helped bring unprecedented success to the Sevilla supporters. The first of these was a new club president, José María del Nido. In many ways a controversial character – certainly very determined and obstinate – del Nido brought a new degree of financial stability to the club, giving it the platform from which it could launch a determined assault on major titles.
The other catalyst for the new success was the coach appointed for the 2000/01 season, Joaquín Caparrós, a volatile and charismatic leader, and a coach born just outside the city. Playing fast, attacking football, Sevilla won the second division title in Caparrós’ first season and they quickly established themselves in La Liga. On the field, the inspiration for the new team was the local lad, José Antonio Reyes but his transfer to Arsenal in January 2004, although devastating to the supporters, gave the shrewd del Nido the funds to strengthen his squad even more.
By finishing in 6th place in 2004/2005, Sevilla entered the UEFA Cup the following year. It was Antonio Puerta – later to become so tragically well-known outside Seville – who scored the goal against FC Schalke 04 in the semi-final that the supporters called ‘el gol quenos cambió la vida’ – the goal that changed our lives. In a staggeringly one-sided final, in which Middlesbrough were beaten 4 – 0, Sevilla became the first ever team from Andalucía to lift a European trophy. One of the goals was scored by Frédéric Kanouté – a player Spurs’ supporters would be hard pushed to recognise as the same one who had played at White Hart Lane previously.
After this success, Caparrós was replaced by Juande Ramos but the team continued to gather silverware. The UEFA Super Cup was won when Barcelona were defeated. Then, by beating the other team from Barcelona, Español, Sevilla retained the UEFA Cup and, in the same season, won their first Copa del Rey for 59 years – with another Kanouté strike being the only goal of the game against Getafe.
By winning the traditional pre-season opener of the 2007/08 season, the Supercopa de España, with a thrilling 5-3 away victory at Real Madrid, Sevilla collected their fifth trophy in a breathtaking 15 month period.
After this, though, came the tragedy of Antonio Puerta’s collapse on the pitch in the first league match of the season against Getafe, and his subsequent death in hospital. Seville, indeed the whole of Spain, was devastated by the untimely end of such a popular player and man. Puerta’s number 16 shirt was ‘retired’ by the club and it took a long time for many players to fully recover from the shock. Puerta’s great friend and the former Sevilla defender Sergio Ramos proudly and poignantly displayed his memorial t-shirt at the climax of Spain’s European Championship celebrations – indeed, he also wore one in the street parades in Madrid on the team’s return.
Perhaps the only positive aspect of this whole sad episode was the new feeling of respect that developed between the presidents and supporters of Sevilla and Betis, whose bitter rivalry had been getting progressively more destructive during the previous seasons. Shortly after this, coach Ramos, seemingly always at loggerheads with del Nido, left Sevilla to join Tottenham in England. Fortunately for the club, his replacement was perhaps the one person able to revitalise the club – the long serving Manolo Jimenez. Having played 354 league games between 1983 and 1997, Jimenez had been a defender the fans had loved because of his never-say-die attitude. The chant, ‘Jimenez, Jimenez, Que cojones tienes!’ – for non-Spanish speakers it is a tribute to his courage – is one of my favourite terrace ditties!
Since Jimenez’s departure in 2010 Seville have continued to strive to be challenging the ‘big two’ at the top of La Liga. In the 2009-10 season they qualified for the Champions League for the third consecutive season and won the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey).